At the end of an inspiring week at a Swale Borough Council-backed course aimed at encouraging entrepreneurs to stop dreaming and start selling, he said: “I wish I had known all this when I was 30.”
Now, though, Rowland is determined to make up for lost time. He is planning to put the lessons of the week into practice by setting up a retail consultancy to help independent shops increase their sales and maximise their profits.
Rowland was one of around 45 would-be entrepreneurs who attended the free PopUp event backed by European funding and held at the Sheppey Healthy Living Centre.
South East-based Optivo housing association is leading the £8.6m, cross-channel project called Increase Valorisation Sociale (Increase VS), which is using the funding to deliver workshops across the region aimed at kick-starting small businesses and creating jobs.
Similar workshops are being held in towns including Margate, Gravesend, Leysdown, Edenbridge, Tonbridge, Dover and Sittingbourne, all led by PopUp Business School (PopUp).
The PopUp message is that would-be entrepreneurs don’t need a complex business plan, expensive legal advice and a frighteningly big business loan; instead they just need an idea, some basic marketing skills and plenty of passion.
Rowland, from St George’s Avenue in Sheerness, spent most of his working life in retail management and signed up to the course because he felt he still had something to contribute and was not enjoying the zero-hour contract jobs he had been doing recently.
“The course has been a real eye-opener, particularly in highlighting the importance of social media and a good website – things that my generation didn’t grow up with,” said the 60 year-old.
“The information is put across really well, in a straightforward way with humour and a lot of discussion and I am particularly pleased that it doesn’t encourage people to get into debt but instead helps them explore ways of making money from something they love.
“I wish I had known this when I was 30 and I would have been successfully doing my own thing now, either in retail or elsewhere, using the advice from this week. I was put off at the time by the idea that it cost a lot of money to set up a business.”
On the last day of the course, after a week which covered subjects such as websites, networking, marketing and sales, PopUp presenter Katie Coombes tackled some of the more challenging issues, like company structure and accounting, giving practical advice on the best way to set up a small business that had potential to grow.
She introduced the topic of tax by pointing out: “Getting a huge tax bill is a good thing, because it shows your company is successful.”
She explained later: “I started my business with no money 15 years ago, grew it, scaled it up and sold it. The things that I learned – and the mistakes that I made – are now all part of this course. I want people to understand that anyone can set up a business; you don’t need to go to university and you don’t need money – just a dream and the desire to follow it.”
Ventriloquist and children’s entertainer Tommy Manzie was also inspired to rebrand and relaunch his business after the week-long course.
Tommy entertains children from five to 11 but said that while he loved what he did he did not have enough knowledge about how to reach a wider audience.
By the end of the week he had created a new website, embraced social media and made a big effort to improve his marketing. “The course really opened my eyes to many things,” said Tommy. “I can do the entertaining, but the rest was a mystery; I am much more confident about taking the business forward now.”
The Increase VS project aims to create up to 1,200 new businesses and help 2,000 more people into work over a three-year programme, operating on both sides of the Channel in areas that have above-average levels of unemployment.
It is being co-funded by the Interreg France (Channel) England programme with a European Regional Development Fund budget of £5.9m.